Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

The Quest for Perfect iPhone Earbuds

Yeah, I love my iPhone. I use it more than any other gadget. So a good pair of earbuds is critical. And you can’t use just any pair because the on-cord clicker/mic makes the device so much better.

I’ve spent way too much money trying different ones, but the perfect pair still eludes me. Here’s my take on the ones I’ve tried so far, in order of cheapest to most expensive.

Apple iPhone Stereo HeadsetApple iPhone Stereo Headset

  • PRICE: $29 (free with iPhone)
  • PROS: Best clicker of all: you can just grab it and click without looking.
  • CONS: Crap sound, uncomfortable fit, and the white just screams “I’m a douchebag. Mug me!”
  • VERDICT: Put away until you sell the iPhone on eBay.

V-Moda Vibe DuoV-Moda Vibe Duo

  • PRICE: $101
  • PROS: Best sound of all: big bass, clear highs, love it. I like the style of it, especially the feel of the cords. And they’re way comfy in the ear.
  • CONS: The sharp metal bits can scratch the iPhone if you put it all in the same pocket. The clicker button can be difficult to find without looking. By far worst reliability of any headphones I’ve tried. I’ve gone through four pairs now. Each time, one of the earbuds stops working after a few months. Returning them for replacement is easy enough, but still a hassle.
  • VERDICT: My favorite earbuds of the bunch. They must be – I’m on my fifth pair. (Aside to V-Moda: You must know about the failure rate by now. Fix the damn things.)

Shure I2c-m Stereo Earphones + HeadsetShure I2c-m Stereo Earphones + Headset

  • PRICE: $119
  • PROS: Fantastic sound. A little bulky and awkward, even though I prefer the over-ear approach.
  • CONS: They’re advertised as “compatible” with the iPhone, but they don’t have the clicker – only a mic. That’s like saying a car stereo is compatible with your car – you just have to pull over to change the channel.
  • VERDICT: Return to sender.

Ultimate Ears 4 VI HeadsetUltimate Ears 4 VI Headset

  • PRICE: $149
  • PROS: More reliable than the V-Modas (which isn’t saying much). Comfortable in ear. Small clicker and mic.
  • CONS: Craptastic sound: all middle, no lows, and distorted highs. The clicker is hard to click and its rubber pad falls off after a few months. The silicone buds fall off the speakers if you look at them wrong.
  • VERDICT: Keep for when the V-Modas are in the shop.

Etymotic hf2 Headset + EarphonesEtymotic hf2 Headset + Earphones

  • PRICE: $179
  • PROS: People on the internet raved about the sound on these. People on the internet are often wrong.
  • CONS: Mediocre sound. Those little trees you’re supposed to stick in your ears reminded me of when I had an ear infection when I was a kid and had to put similar things in my ears when swimming. Ugh. The mic/clicker is way too big. Too pricy.
  • VERDICT: Return to sender.


For now, I’m babying my most recent pair of Vibes to try and get more than a few months out of them. Wish me luck.

If you use an iPhone with a pair of earbuds not mentioned here, please do add your review in the comments.

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UPDATE 16 JUNE: And now the V-Modas are dead. This pair lasted 2 weeks. Ugh.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.